Pillow Talk (1959, Michael Gordon) – Screening Notes

“It’s so nice to meet a man you feel you can trust..”

Ladies man Brad (Rock Hudson) and career woman Jan (Doris Day) fall out over his excessive use of their shared phone line. Brad’s best buddy Jonathon (Tony Randall) confides in him about his infatuation with the attractive interior decorator who redesigned his office and mentions how she is having trouble with a neighbour. Figuring out Jan is the lady in question Brad pretends to be a country boy from Texas and sets out to seduce her.


The Doris Day/Rock Hudson partnership is one of cinema’s most iconic pairings. Day was already famous for musicals like Calamity Jane (53, David Butler), but the success of Pillow Talk turned her into Hollywood’s biggest female star. Hudsonhad worked his way through the studio system  but as a leading man he seemed bland and wooden in genre films. However he made a huge impression as a dramatic actor proving himself to be more than a 6’4 hunk in a series of films for director Douglas Sirk (Magnificent Obsession, All That Heaven Allows, Written on the Wind, The Tarnished Angels). Dismissed somewhat patronisingly on their release as being merely ‘women’s pictures’ they are now recognised as classics and Hudson’s performances show a remarkable depth of feeling. New to comedy and wracked with doubts about his ability to be funny Hudson was lost until Pillow Talk director Gordon told him to play it as seriously as if he were acting in a tragedy. It probably helped having gifted comic actors like Tony Randall and Thelma Ritter around him though.
Producer Ross Hunter was an influential figure in the making of Pillow Talk. The findings of the recently published Kinsey reports (1948, 53) signalled the changing mores of American society. Hunter was fed up adhering to the Hay’s Code, a censorious set of rules which had been in place since 1930 and aimed to protect public morality. Pillow Talk may seem tame by modern standards but screenwriters Stanley Shapiro and Maurice Richlin push the envelope with suggestive dialogue. Michael Gordon also uses a split screen technique (see picture left) so Jan and Brad appear to be in the same bathtub or bed which in 1959 would still contravene the Hay’s Code.
Pillow Talk was so popular Day/Hudson/Randall reteamed again for two other films – Lover Come Back (61, Delbert Mann) and Send Me No Flowers (64, Norman Jewison). What seemed progressive in 1959 dated in the 60’s as younger audiences turned away from the popular entertainment their parents liked. By the early 70’s all three leads were working primarily in television. Tony Randall had a huge hit with the long-running TV version of The Odd Couple. Hudsonstarred in McMillan and Wife and made his last onscreen appearance in 1985 as a regular on Dynasty, essentially a trashy but fun distillation of the kind of melodramas he made back in the 50’s. Sadly Hudson is best known these days for being the most high profile victim of the AIDS virus. Doris Day starred in her own comedy show until 1973 but retired from public life afterwards. In 2011 she made a comeback of sorts by releasing a new album entitled ‘My Heart.’ 

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